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Human Rights Commission endorses ‘No Coal’ ordinance in Richmond

on September 28, 2019

The Human Rights and Human Relations Commission of the city of Richmond unanimously endorsed an ordinance calling for the phasing out of coal transportation by privately-owned Levin-Richmond Terminal. Monday’s vote was a new development in the contentious debate over coal and petcoke brought by train from Utah to Richmond for transport to Asia. 

The legislation, co-authored by City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, details the environmental and health damages as a result of handling the carbonaceous rock. The ordinance highlights concerns about inhaling coal and petcoke dust— which studies have linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma, as well as to cancer. Levin-Richmond Terminal transports coal in uncovered boxes as the motion from moving trains can facilitate combustion. When left uncovered, the dust from coal ends up contaminating the air and nearby land. 

Calling for a “prohibition on the storage and handling of coal or petcoke throughout the City of Richmond,” Councilman Martinez advocates phasing out “existing allowed uses of land involving the storage and handling of coal and petcoke.” 

Critics are particularly concerned about dust emission from Levin-Richmond’s uncovered trains bringing in coal to the city. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found: “wind blowing over uncovered coal piles… plus gaseous emissions from the piles significantly increased concentrations of airborne fine particulates within 25 miles of these plants.”

The bill was presented to the HRC committee by Lisa Park from No Coal In Richmond, a local organization led by residents. Park also cited moral reasons in support of the ordinance, emphasizing the range of citizens affected by the train line–especially the elderly and children. According to California’s EPA stats for 2018, Richmond ranks in the 99th percentile for air pollution in the US. The city’s air quality would be affected by continued emissions from the terminal, the group says. 

Map of pollution rates in the San Francisco Area
(Photo: California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment)

“Most people don’t know about the contamination,” HRC commissioner Reza Yazdi said. 

On the flipside, Levin-Richmond Terminal, one of the last two companies in Northern California that ships coal, employs about 62 people, of which 50 of the positions are union jobs. Proponents of the bill at the meeting said officials from the corporation previously suggested that being barred from transporting the materials might bring employee dismissals and even floated the possibility of shutting down.

“Levin is using this as a threat,” HRC commissioner Victoria Sawicki said. 

Representatives from Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation could not be reached for comment. 

Even with the unanimous support of the HRC, the No Coal In Richmond measure must win four votes when the ordinance finally goes to the City Council for approval. The date of council’s vote has not been set. 

1 Comment

  1. Joshua L Snider on September 28, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Just put a tax on it and use the money to do environmental/health stuff.

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